Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ethics for Activists 18

Tetsugen was a zen monk in 17th Century Japan and he had a dream to publish the sutras (buddhist teachings) in Japanese for they were only available at that time in Chinese. His plan was to carve wood blocks with which to print the sutras in 7000 copies. And so he began to travel and collect money. He would ask for donations wherever he went. He thanked everyone equally, whether they gave him 100 gold pieces or only a few small coins. After ten years he had the money he needed to begin. But at that moment there was a flood; the Uji River overflowed and many lives were lost and many destroyed. Tetsugen used his money to help the people, to save as many as he could from the starvation that followed. And once again he began to travel and collect money. An epidemic swept the land and many people died and many suffered. Tetsugen used the money he'd collected to help the people. And then he returned to his task. Finally, after twenty years, he'd collected enough to begin carving the wood blocks to print the sutras. The wood blocks that Tetsugen carved can be seen today in Obaku monastery in Kyoto. However, people say that Tetsugen made three sets of the sutras in his lifetime and that the first two are invisible and far surpass the third.

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